During the presidential campaign of 2000, a clandestine group of Wisconsin Capitol staffers used to meet occasionally to plan the state strategy for the John McCain campaign. These were not the quintessential insiders – one limped a lot and one had a lisp. They met in poorly lit rooms, spoke in hushed tones, and discussed how McCain could possibly upset the Bush campaign machine. They were wrong, and not by a little bit.
I was one of those handful. In their 20s, some people experiment with drugs, some with heavy drinking. I experimented with McCain. And heavy drinking. I admired his heroism and independence, and I didn\’t really appreciate the fact that party leaders had essentially chosen George W. Bush for me as my candidate. (When the Wisconsin primary rolled around, I voted for Alan Keyes – this has allowed me to tell my lefty pals for eight years that I voted against Bush.)
Since 2000, I\’ve become old, crotchety and cynical. I had pretty much dismissed McCain as a legitimate presidential candidate. (He still may not be legitimate – New Hampshire seems to vote for him reflexively at this point.) He angered me with his ridiculous support of campaign finance reform. The party\’s base has chafed at his moderate immigration plan (although it doesn\’t bother me all that much). He gives crazy-eyed speeches about following Osama bin Laden to the gates of Hell. His bragging about working in a bipartisan fashion goes over like fingernails on a chalkboard in a Republican primary. At 71 years old, he looks old and brittle. My grandmother is 74, and we don\’t let her go too near the toaster, much less the Oval Office.
But tonight\’s speech after his victory in New Hampshire seemed to rekindle some of that old feeling I once had for Senator McCain. It was like seeing an old girlfriend after having split for years – you may have moved on with your life, but you know there had to be something there that attracted you two in the first place. And while I\’ve thinking about dating Giuliani or Romney, it appears that McCain is still single – and he wants me back. (Of course, the bastard never let me come over to pick up the t-shirts I left at his house after the split.)
Naturally, this may all just be crazy talk. McCain could get hammered in Michigan and South Carolina and be relegated forever to the scrap heap of \”close but no cigar\” presidential candidates. (As opposed to Bill Clinton, who was the \”come close, I have a cigar\” president.) But for one night in January, the 71-year old candidate who has spent a lifetime in the U.S. Senate looks like the candidate of change. Without question, he\’s the candidate who is most right on the issue that matters the most – the War on Terror.
So while I consistently deride voters who pick a candidate based on their electoral \”bounce,\” it seems I may have become one of those voters. At the very least, the New Hampshire primary gave me the chance to see McCain in a different light. Who knows if I end up supporting him – but now he\’s on the map.
Let\’s just hope he accepts the mix tape I\’ve been making him.
How perfect was it that John Edwards\’ entrance music was the \”This is Our Country\” song by John Mellencamp? The song that makes me want to throw my television out the window utilized by the candidate that I would crawl over broken glass to vote against. It\’s like electoral Feng Shui. The universe is in harmony.
The most undercovered local angle to the presidential race? The fact that Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle and Mike Huckabee roomed together on a 10-day trip to Iraq. This deserves front-page treatment – can you imagine this Odd Couple pairing?
DOYLE: \”Jesus, Mike – can you open a window? Your socks reek.\”
HUCKABEE: \”Well which one are you talking to – Jesus or me? He\’s right here next to me.\”
JESUS: \”Sorry, dude.\”